lights off

For a long time I thought I was above watching reality TV. ‘Tis for the plebes, said I. Lately, though, I’ve realized that I’m far from immune to its trashy allure. I still disdain the most popular shows, like Survivor and American Idol and any of the Real World incarnations, but I have been known to squander entire afternoons watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model, and lately my mom and I have developed a Monday-night ritual of watching Dance Your Ass Off together.

My few remaining brain cells experienced some trepidation when I recently decided to add another show to my repertoire: ABC’s Dating in the Dark, which purports to answer “the age-old question: Is love really blind?”  Of course, it fails, but it does offer some interesting insights into human thoughts and interactions.

The conceit is this: six strangers (3 men, 3 women) live together in a house, never meeting unless in the “dark room,” in which they are blind.  We voyeurs see all the goings-on thanks to infra-red cameras.  Each episode begins by introducing all the contestants, and then sending them on a group date to get acquainted.  I’ve watched three episodes, and already the introductory dialogue is a bit tiresome in its repitition.  This is to be expected, but doesn’t make for scintillating viewing.  “What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do, blah blah blah.”  After the group date, everyone gets to pick one person to invite on the first individual date.

The show then throws a wrench in the proceedings:  they inform the contestants that “a team of experts” has found them a “compatibility match” based on some (apparently pretty detailed) questionnaires they filled out before appearing on the show.  This destroys the “experiment” aspect entirely; if people are told whom they should be w/, from an authoritative source no less, naturally they will gravitate to that other person.

Which is exactly what happened.  After watching the first two episodes, I thought I had things pretty well figured out.  People predictably connected w/ their matches, and professed a distinct lack of chemistry w/ anyone else.  When you “look to like,” looking will more likely liking move.

At the end of each show is THE REVEAL.  You only get to pick one person, and most people invariably chose their matches.  None of the people would be too much of a challenge to love.  Some are a little bit pudgy, but no one is fat; no one has crazy hair or extensive tattoes.  Most of the groups usually include a token member from a minority.  It is gratifying to see interracial dating treated so casually, although they could still do a lot to introduce more diversity.  I think they should also recruit homosexual groups.  I have a feeling network television is not ready for this, or at least thinks it isn’t, which is a pity, for it would be interesting to see how the dynamic between two members of the same sex (who naturally understand each other more easily) differs and is similar two opposite-sex couples.  I’ve had gay friends and acquaintances, but they have always existed on the fringes of a mostly heterosexual group; most of the knowledge I have about the workings of the gay community comes from watching Queer as Folk.

Once THE REVEAL is over, the contestants leave separately and have to decide if they will meet their partner on the balcony, or if they will plunge back alone into the realm of singledom.  The balcony is cruelly positioned so that anyone waiting up there can see whoever exits the house.

The formula is not unsatisfying.  It’s sort of like watching a fairy tale unfold.  In fact, the participants even perform certain “tasks,” trying to glean information about one another from scent, or by rifling through their belongings.  And as the audience, we become invested in a happy ending.  We wait breathlessly to see who will end up together, and we cheerfully watch the couples drive away in their modern-day carriages, nuzzling each other happily.  For those who are rejected, we nod in sympathy, wishing them better luck next time.  One of the most brilliant aspects of the show, imo, is that it brings in new people every wk.  B/c as soon as a couple is formed (or not), one ceases to care about the subsequent outcome.  I suppose some people have tracked the fates of some of the Dating in the Dark pairs, but I for one have no interest in what comes after the “happily ever after,” any more than I wonder if Cinderella cheated on Prince Charming w/ the court jester, or whether or not he kept a mistress.

I was expecting the third show to be identical, and was in for a surpise.  ALL of the women went for the same guy; one of the guys didn’t like any of the women from the get-go; and t’other guy feigned disintrest when he was tacitly rejected by the girl he most liked.  This meant that the final REVEAL was something of a beauty contest, which turned everyone into a loser.  W/ no clear indication of which one the guy might be waiting for, all three women left alone.

Which brings us to an interesting point about attraction.  Matchmaking can only take us to a point; there is still something unpredictable about that galvanizing, tantalizing force that draws one person to another.  In college (yes b/c that was SO LONG AGO and I am now much, much wiser HAH) I met a guy who should have been perfect.  He was nerdy, like me, but also made sure to work out and stay fit.  He was also a chemical engineering major, which meant I was in constant awe of his ability to Do Math.  We could have spent the rest of our Friday nights drinking Bailey’s and watching Firefly, and he clearly liked me; alas, I just felt no…well, w/e you want to call it: spark, chemistry, attraction: that irresistable draw that makes you hang around your object of affection like some dumb loon, babbling about the effect of global warming on the poor, poor polar bears or what have you (umm, not that I have ever done that).  W/e it took, we just didn’t have it, and so what must have looked like a v. promising relationship never came to fruition.

In some ways, we have been “dating in the dark,” or at least making friends in the dark, since the advent of the Internet.  For instance, I could claim to you, gentlefriends, that I am 5’9″ and 112 lbs. with long curly blonde hair and hazel eyes, and wear a C-cup, and you would just have to take my word for it.  And then fall madly in love w/ me!  Or rather, w/ the hot, blonde me, who unfortunately does not exist (sorry if I got anyone’s hopes up).  Whether we’re meeting people in a dark room or in cyberspace, the implied anonymity makes us bolder (perhaps even more rash) than we would otherwise be.  We can be confident, which automatically renders us more attractive, and there are no limits to how we can present ourselves.  When the lights come back on, though, our old fears of being judged resurface, and we become painfully aware of the unibrow, the poochy belly, the second head…which sends us scuttling back behind the social inhibitions that keep us safe.

I think THE REVEAL has little to do w/ how the people actually look (as I said, none of them are really trolls) as w/ being confronted by the shock of reality, the dream made real.  Some people can handle it; others prefer to simply file it away as a brief, embarassing fluke.  Then they make cute little excuses like, “he just looks so young” and “she wants different things out of life.”

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